Oral arguments held on appeal of ex-auditor Roger Reynolds’ criminal conviction

Credit: Nick Graham

Credit: Nick Graham

Nearly a year after the conviction of former Butler County Auditor Roger Reynolds on a felony charge, the appeal of that guilty verdict remains pending.

Oral arguments were heard last month in Columbus by 10th District Court of Appeal judges assigned to hear the case by the Ohio Supreme Court after all all five 12th District judges recused.

The process was also slowed down a bit when two judges originally assigned by the supreme court to hear the appeal also recused themselves.

Reynolds was found guilty by a jury on Dec. 21, 2022 in Butler County Common Pleas Court of fourth-degree felony unlawful interest in a public contract. A jury acquitted him on three other felony charges and one misdemeanor charge.

The jury found fault with the elected official trying to convince the Lakota Schools to build a golf academy at the golf course community where his family lives — using excess auditor fees Reynolds routinely returned to taxing bodies. Reynolds’ daughter was also a member of the Lakota Schools golf team at the time of the deal proposal.

Visiting Judge Daniel Hogan sentenced Reynolds to 30 days in jail but stayed it pending this appeal and five years probation. He also fined him $5,000 and ordered that he serve 100 hours of community service.

Reynolds’ attorney Chad Ziepfel in his appeals brief said the guilty verdict was unfounded and sets dangerous precedent.

“If affirmed, this case will open up to criminal liability every brainstorm that a public officials has about how to spend public funds,” Ziepfel wrote. “No case has swept so broadly. For good reason. The statute does not permit it.”

Special prosecutor Brad Tammaro from the Ohio attorney General’s Office said Reynolds’ plan went beyond just brainstorming.

“Appellant characterizes his actions as ‘the mere whisper of a brainstorming session,’ when in reality Appellant conducted multiple meetings with the Lakota School Board treasurer, the COO, an athletic director and the school district’s attorney, at his official office and at their official office, during which he proposed at least three different variations on the agreement,” Tammaro wrote.

On Nov. 14, Judges Laurel Beatty Blunt, Julia L. Dorrian and Terri B. Jamison of the 10th District held oral arguments peppering attorneys from both sides who echoed the points of law cited in the briefs filed.

Attorney Aaron Herzig, of the same law firm as Ziepfel, argued the appeal for Reynolds and Tammaro for the state.

Herzig called the the alleged crime in this case “really an ethics issue.”

“No contract was secured, no contract was authorized, no contract was even drafted nothing more than a few ideas discussed among Mr. Reynolds and other public officials of a different public body,” he told the judges, adding Reynolds did not have the power to authorized or secure a contract.

“No public official has ever been convicted under this statute without a contract,” Herzig said.

Tammaro told the judges a contract did not have to exist for the defendant to have violated the law according to the statute.

Reynolds “took action to employ his authority or influence to secure a public contract,” Tammaro said, noting it was not a contract at that stage, but Reynolds was using his influence to secure one.

Tammaro also pointed to Reynolds less than truthful answers when the proposed plan was called into question.

“The statute includes attempt, but doesn’t require to secure authorization “ Tammaro said. He added otherwise that would mean “‘Do whatever he wants to do, unethical conduct is okay as long as he is not good at it.”

As of Monday a decision had not yet been issued by the appeals judges. It can typically take a couple months from the time of oral arguments.

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